5 -When and Where has DD Been Practiced?
5.1.1 – Switzerland, Presently practices semi-direct democracy in parallel with representative democracy. The Swiss system requires 50.000 petitioners, about 1.2% of the electorate, to initiate a referendum, whereas BC, Canada, requires the signatures of 10% or voters, of each riding, to initiate a referendum.
5.1.2 Icelanders, following the Swiss example, became active politically in 2010 and found DD. More than 60,000 people triggered a referendum on the Icesave bill on 2010 March 6, the first to be held in Iceland since independence in 1944. A total revision of their national constitution, July 2011, includes new instruments of DD.
5.1.3 – Many USA states use DD regularly and extensively during elections. The process of initiatives and referendums allow citizens of to place new legislation on a popular ballot, or to place legislation that has recently been passed by a legislature on a ballot for a popular vote.
5.1.4 – In Rossland, BC, referenda was adopted and practiced, between 1991 and 2001, until the local government was made aware, by the BC Minister of Municipal Affairs, of its “ultra virus” illegality.
In Canada, a referendum, meaning a binding vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular law, needs first the adoption of a constitutional amendment.
Currently, the sovereign authority to consent legislation comes down from the Queen to parliament, it does not come up from the people to parliament. Andre Carrel, a retired city manager, expands on this constitutional issue on his book, “Citizens’ Hall.”
5.1.5 – The Province of British Columbia introduced The Direct Legislation Bill in 1919. J. S. Cowper, MLA defended the proposed law. The Bill was passed, but never received Royal Assent. The government feared that it would be ruled unconstitutional.
Precedents of DD in Canada
5.2 – A non-binding plebiscite on prohibition of alcohol was held in Canada on September 29, 1898
5.3 – A non-binding plebiscite on conscription was held in Canada on April 27, 1942.
5.4 – The National Referendum on the Charlottetown Accord was a package of proposed amendments to the Constitution of Canada. It was defeated on October 26, 1992.
5.5 – The Quebec referendum on October 30th. 1995 asked whether Quebec should secede from Canada and become an independent state. The motion was defeated by less than 1% margin.
5.6 – There were two questions on The British Columbia Recall and Initiative Referendum, on October 17, 1991: One on whether elected officials could be recalled during the term of office, and another on whether voters should be given the right to initiate legislation by referendum.
Both questions were clearly approved by the BC electorate with 83% and 85% respectively.
In theory, an “Initiative and Recall” Legislation was introduced by the BC Legislature, and passed as law, in 1996.
In practice however, the 40% signatures required to trigger a Recall by-election are so high that, in the past 20 years, no attempt to recall has been successful.
Also, the requirement to collect 10% signatures to “initiate” a referendum on legislation has been has been too onerous to make it usable.
5.7 – A referendum on electoral reform was held on May 17, 2005. British Columbian voters were asked to approve a new electoral system based on the Single Transferable Vote, STV-BC.
It failed to meet the required “supermajority” threshold of 60%. A second referendum on the same issue was held on May 12, 2009. The second defeat showed a “supermajority” of 60.92% voting for retaining the current “first past the post” electoral system.
5.8 – Elections BC administered the HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) Mail-in Referendum – June 13 – August 5, 2011. 54% of BC voter’s rejected the government’s imposed HST.
The argument here is not to analyze which form of taxation is more fair, the important precedent from this referendum, is that the citizens of BC made a binding decision which, in principle, overruled their government’s decision.
5.9 -The 2015 Vancouver Regional District – Transportation Plebiscite, misnomered referendum, proposed a 0.5% sales tax increase to fund Translink projects. A 62% mixture of anti-tax lobbyists, anti-Translink-Mgmt protesters, and anti-Liberal government voters rejected the tax proposal.
By reviewing plebiscites and referendums in Canada and abroad, we can realize the potential use of D.D. as a tool to prove the disconnect between representative governments and the vision of most citizens.